President Clinton Wednesday vowed to veto a package of $16.4 billion in spending cuts in education, housing and environmental programs if Republicans don’t rewrite the bill to kill dozens of building and highway projects instead.
“You have to cut pork-barrel projects before you cut people,” the president said, setting the stage for a major confrontation over spending priorities that also could imperil about $7 billion in disaster aid and new anti-terrorism initiatives.
Angry Republican lawmakers dismissed Clinton’s threat as political gamesmanship and said they would not renegotiate the bill, meaning both the cuts and the aid money would die. House leaders, who scheduled the bill for a vote today, themselves had gambled that the new funding would force Clinton to reluctantly accept the cuts in dozens of social programs.
If Clinton vetoes the bill, it would mark the first veto of his two-year-old presidency. White House spokesman Mike McCurry did not dispute suggestions that Clinton’s action might indicate he would veto other spending bills this summer if they cut too deeply in programs that he regards as critical “investments.” But Republican leaders, who said they were outraged by Clinton’s veto threat, said that such a confrontational strategy will ultimately backfire.
“He is not in a strong bargaining position,” said House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., in an interview. “The cuts are just going to be more severe” in the 1996 budget, he said, and every time the president vetoes a bill, “it’ll just come back with more zeros.”
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said it was unlikely the House could muster the two-thirds vote needed to override a presidential veto.
Nevertheless, the president appears to have accepted the Republican contention that more than $16 billion in cuts were necessary. When the Democrats controlled Congress, emergency spending was considered exempt from deficit-reduction targets, and the bills often became vehicles for scores of pork-barrel projects.
The heaviest cuts in the Republican bill fell on housing programs ($6 billion), health, education and jobs programs ($3.2 billion) and environmental programs ($1.5 billion). The bill also cut $580 million for building projects.
Clinton proposed to cut another $438 million for courthouses and federal offices, $450 million from highway projects, $474 million by slashing government travel and overhead and $102 million from an overseas foreign food-aid program. He also proposed closing a loophole allowing Americans to change their citizenship to avoid taxation, raising $60 million.
The money raised by Clinton’s suggestions would be used to restore $619 million for education and training, $500 million for safe drinking water, $230 million for housing and veterans programs (one aiding 8,000 people with AIDS), $20 million for the women and infants nutrition program, $31 million for crime prevention, and $14 million for community development banks.
Republicans suggested the president cynically waited until the negotiations were completed to raise objections. In a sharply worded letter to Clinton, Livingston said lawmakers had deleted the one specific problem raised last month by Clinton, which concerned a provision nullifying Clinton’s executive order banning federal contractors from permanently replacing striking workers.